LITTLE ROCK — For some in the Christian community here, Easter Sunday took on a pallid atmosphere as state officials worked through the weekend to reinstate scheduled executions that had been held up by numerous court rulings.
While regular church services were planned for the holiday, many residents in the capital had been also expecting to attend a special vigil for the condemned later Sunday evening at Little Rock's Trinity Cathedral — which was supposed conclude with a march to the governor's mansion.
But the church suspended that service after Federal Judge Kristine Baker ordered a temporary injunction on the executions Saturday, effectively blocking them.
The vigil and march could be reinstated, as Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has appealed the ruling to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Alongside her team of 70 attorneys, the state's top prosecutor has worked through Easter weekend to reestablish the execution schedule.
For the state, there is little room for error, since a key drug in the lethal injection cocktail expires at the end of the month. If the midazolam, a controversial drug that is supposed to render the inmates unconscious, is allowed to expire, it would delay executions for an indefinite period of time.
The first executions are scheduled for Monday and would put Bruce Ward and Don Davis to death. Both men's lawyers have claimed that their clients are not mentally competent to face lethal injection.
Some Christians in Arkansas would be pleased by the delay.
On Holy Thursday, more than 200 faith leaders from across Arkansas sent a signed letter to Gov. Asa Hutchinson — who is the one who in February scheduled eight men to be executed in a 10-day span — begging him to reconsider the use of capital punishment.
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"As faith leaders," the signers wrote, "we are opposed to the death penalty because we believe that in spite of their actions, they retain the God-given dignity of any human life which must be respected."
Jacob Johnson, 32, the pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Little Rock, signed the letter and said that it came together in a short amount of time because — despite the differences of the varying faith communities — they all stand firmly against the death penalty.
"From a faith perspective, I truly believe that we all were created in God's image," Johnson told NBC News Sunday. "And what we do with that sometimes isn't good — that's not to deny the fact that there should be justice for the crimes that have been committed — but more death is not part of that."
Arkansas's governor, who scheduled the executions and told the Department of Corrections to assume the court's decisions will be reversed, identifies as a Southern Baptist.
"Governor Asa Hutchinson is fond of posting Bible verses on his Twitter account every Sunday," said noted Catholic death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean. "Here is one I urge him to reflect upon this Easter: 'Blessed are the merciful.'"